Friday, March 02, 2012

Tetzaveh (Parshas Zachor) 5632 Second Ma'amar

Many people live in fear.  There is probably no aspect of life that is not subject to people’s fears.  Fear holds us back from improving ourselves.  In order to improve and come close to God it is imperative that we move beyond our fears.  How can we do this?  Fear stems from egocentrism.  Egocentrism is another way of saying God’s concealment.  When we are thinking about ourselves, we are not open to experiencing God.  The opposite of egocentrism is subjugating our own desires in favor of God’s will.  When we do this, God is revealed to us, we feel His presence in our lives and our fears evaporate. 

The Sfas Emes learns this from a Midrash[1] that Rashi cites on the first pasuk of parshas Zachor[2].  Rashi explains the juxtaposition of the preceding paragraph which admonishes us as merchants to keep correct weights and parshas Zachor which relates Amalek’s attack on the nation of Israel and subsequent defeat.  Rashi explains that the former leads to the latter.  When we use fraudulent weights we should be worried about provocation from the enemy.  Why is this so?  Why does dishonesty regarding weights lead to being attacked by Amalek?

The Sfas Emes understands weights metaphorically as referred to God’s presence in this world.  Since God is infinite, how can we finite beings experience Him?  The Sfas Emes explains that we can only experience Him because He reveals Himself in measured doses than we can handle.  The weights of the first parsha refer to these measured doses of God’s revelation.  Dishonesty with weights is an allegory for not recognizing God’s life-force which underpins everything in this world including our very actions.  The result of not recognizing God, relying solely upon ourselves is fear. 

When, on the other hand, we cultivate our faith that God is the continuing cause of everything we find that we have no reason to fear.  This is the significance of Moshe Rabbeinu holding up his hands in prayer during the battle with Amalek.  The pasuk states, “וַיְהִי יָדָיו אֱמוּנָה .../Behold his hands were faithful …” (Shmos 17:12)  It was this faith, nothing else, that enabled the nation to defeat Amalek.

This concept explains why parshas Shekalim precedes parshas Zachor.  The shekel, as we’ve said, represents God’s revelation in measured doses.  When we recognize fully that God gives of His life-force in measured doses to each component of the Creation including ourselves and our actions, then there is no concealment, no room for fear and we are ready to defeat Amalek. 

The key is to subordinate our desires to His.  Then what we thought impossible like eradicating Amalek becomes reality.  In this week’s Haftarah[3] we read that Shaul HaMelech showed mercy to Agag the king of Amalek and did not follow Shmuel HaNavi’s instructions to kill him.  He certainly thought that there was no way to eradicate Amalek completely at that time.  He could not envision it.  But if he had strengthened his faith and believed wholeheartedly that God would certainly help him succeed regardless of what he thought, the belief itself would have caused a revelation of God and would have helped him succeed to wipe out Amalek completely.

Our faith affects our reality.  This explains why God told Shmuel, “... וּדְּבָרַי לֹא הֵקִים .../… and he did not establish my words …” (Shmuel I 15:11) instead of the more understandable “... וּדְּבָרַי לֹא קִיֵם .../… and he did not fulfill my words …”  Shaul had the power to establish God’s words, to turn them into reality. The pasuk in Tehillim (37:3) states, “בְּטַח בַּֽה' וַֽעֲשֵׂה־טוֹב שְׁכָן־אֶרֶץ וּרְעֵה אֱמוּנָה׃/Trust in God and do good so that you may dwell in the land and nourish yourself with belief.”  Chazal[4] tell us that according to the strength of our belief, God reveals Himself to us by helping us to be successful in serving Him.  Our reality is affected according to the extent of our faith.

This is also the reason Shmuel says, “... הִנֵּה שְׁמֹעַ מִזֶבַח טוֹב לְהַקְשִיב מֵחֵלֶב אֵילִים/… Behold accepting (God’s will) is better than a sacrifice, listening is better than the fat of rams.” (Shmuel I 15:22)  The prophet could not be clearer.  All things being equal sacrifices are certainly a very high level of serving God.  However, when God instructs us not to sacrifice as He instructed Shaul HaMelech, following God’s will when it conflicts with our understanding is not just a higher level.  Doing otherwise becomes anathema to serving God. 

May we merit internalizing the belief that God will help us succeed in our service to Him and that with strong faith in Him, there is nothing in this world that can prevent us from succeeding.  Amen.

[1] Tanchuma Ki Seitzei 8
[2] Rashi on Devarim 25:14 beg. Zachor eis asher
[3] Shmual I 15:2-34
[4] Shmos R. 33:1


Anonymous said...

so maybe the endpoints of a continuum would be thus:

(Amalek) all fears but of God...
...(Israel*) no fears but of God, *ideally

where all seeming counterexamples are subsumed by the proposition:

if an atheist had no fear of death, for example, that lack would track back to his failure to fear God, Who Insists on the value of human life (though he might of course falsely fear death as a threat to his ego); the ideal Jew's fear of death would track back to his valid fear of Divine Judgement...

a couple of thoughts to share in passing, as came to mind on Shabbos--
1st, a plain way to understand Moshe's hands opposite Amalek, as
were mentioned in the post-- when he saw Moshe's arms begin to sink, when he sensed a weakness, a vulnerability, in the enemy, Amalek's predatory instinct surged (his cruelty throve on weakness, on the slightest promise of easy pickings)...
2nd, a less plain way to view Moshe's handiwork:
when his right hand lifted the staff to heaven, the same as at
plague 7, the Israelite blows landed like hailstones on the
defensive Amalekites; when
Moshe's left hand also rose to heaven, as at plague 9, no Amalekite could as it were see his brother*-- that faithless pack then lost whatever cruel coordination it might've enjoyed...
*lo ra'u ish es-achiv

Anonymous said...

footnote to the hailstone/darkness
comment above: Chur would here be
supporting Moshe's right hand, with
it's scepter of aggressive, kingly
Yehuda; Aharon, usually an agent
for light (menorah, kaparrah, Torah), for peace between each man & his brother, here
upholds Moshe's left hand, withholding light from Amalek, shutting out brother from brother
(yotzeir ohr U'voreh choshech;
goleil ohr mip'nei choshech...)